Member Monday-Shucks Pearls of Marion
Member Monday Feature
By Tina M. Wolfe
Passion and ingenuity don’t have expiration dates. Likewise, the energy and drive to create and contribute doesn’t always align with life’s calendar. This is certainly the case with Charlene Hollifield and education professional Tony Long.
These two community-minded McDowell residents have been friends for years working within the McDowell County school system. Tony had taken a parttime job at a small pop-up shop their friend owned called Shucks Pearls for Purpose in Hendersonville, North Carolina. At the time it was a holiday only shop and the business was structured to be part profit and part fundraiser for local churches. Sharing this experience with Charlene and how much he enjoyed it, it was no surprise that when the owner was contemplating retirement, Tony and Charlene became excited about the possibility of owning and operating this niche shop with a healthy following. “We loved the idea of the community engagement aspect because that is important to both Tony and me,” she said.
SO, WHAT EXACTLY IS A POP-UP SHOP?
The original pop-up shop, also known as guerrilla marketing, was launched in 2004 in Berlin by Japanese fashion label Comme des Garçons. Original pop-up shops were typically located outside the established shopping districts and were open for a year before they moved on to their next “mystery” location. The temporal and anti-establishment nature of these pop-up stores enabled the label to constantly evolve and build a name for itself in the fashion space.
Consumers loved the idea, and it grew to include all forms of retail. Some of the appeal for brands or retailers include creating an instant buzz, allowing for non-committal exposure (no locked in lease), allowed brands to experiment at a low cost, they were fun, informal, and allowed for cost effective testing grounds for new products.
FROM EDUCATOR TO ENTREPRENUER
Tony convinced (it wasn’t difficult) Charlene to join him in working parttime at the shop. When it came time for the owner to retire, Tony and Charlene were already emotionally invested in the concept and agreed to buy it. To prepare themselves for the transition from employee to business owner, the two took advantage of the Growing Entrepreneurs Marion Program. This eight-week program is a collaboration among the City of Marion, Marion Business Association, the McDowell Chamber of Commerce, and the McDowell Economic Development Association.
The program is designed to assist aspiring business owners in the fundamentals of business ownership and operation. Students learn from area professionals and are tasked with creating a small business plan to compete for a $5000 small business grant assistance package. Graduates also receive half off a one-year membership to the Chamber.
“Taking GEM allowed us to network with other business owners,” Charlene said. “We found out what we were doing right, but we also found things we could improve on.”
The two knew they wanted the shop to be in downtown and began planning. “The existing store had sparce decor, Charlene recalled. “I started looking at Facebook to get ideas and inspiration.” She and Tony understood the impact of creating that atmosphere and how displays done well can boost sales dramatically.
“We’re selling a sense of being, a feeling,” she said.
Charlene’s engaging personality was also the perfect fit for the retail business and although she admits to not knowing much about pearls at first, she adds, “The previous owners were very helpful.” They opened on Mainstreet in 2013 as Shucks Pearls of Marion and initially for only three months during the holiday season. This allowed them to acclimate to the business side and go to shows and establish relationships with vendors.
Comp or competitive shopping is something every retail business owner should do as it provides you with inspiration, industry price-points, product popularity and much more. “We do a lot of comp shopping,” she said. “We look for contemporary items and discover new vendors sometimes.”
They have gradually increased their open time to six months of the year. Some of the criteria Charlene and Tony requires in her products include, quality, the look itself, and the price point. “It serves us no good for you to come in to shop but can’t afford to buy anything,” she said. “I’ve really thought out the customer journey and experience.”
“This store has been educational for Tony and me,” she adds. She allows herself to operate from a learning perspective, perhaps from her background. But this perspective has been very profitable for her business, she admits. “When I go to price things I listen to my customers, I’ve gotten a lot of comments and I’ve even adjusted prices on some things.”
Some of her lessons have been harder than others. She admits that it takes great discipline when she goes to gem shows and shops for products. “Nancy (Tony’s wife) and I are not allowed to shop together by ourselves,” she added with a laugh. They create a list of desired or needed items, make the full round of the venue, and then go back and shop. She and Tony have been friends for some time and this endeavor has only served to strengthen their friendship. “Tony is like my brother from another mother,” she said.
RECIPES FOR RETAIL SUCCESS
“I grew up with a mother in a large bank, so she instilled customer service in me. I treat my customers the way I want to be treated as a customer,” she said. Small gestures make big impacts such as holding things for people, trying to find specific pieces, or match an outfit.
The shop beautifully showcases the treasure of the sea as well as distinctive designers in gemstones, silver and more. Ken Haring creates gorgeous sterling silver and copper bracelets, Lorelle Bacon is a multi-talented artist who works with gemstones, glass and intricate wire designs, and Cathy Green’s fine silver and pendants are show-stoppers. Adorning the walls of this colorful and placid environ are watercolor landscapes and stills by artist Marsha Wood and Cathy Green along with displayed stained-glass pieces by Brenda Salsman.
There are pieces and products for every price point such as handmade candles, flameless lumières by Modgy, and natural, plant-based hand sanitizers, lip balm and hand cream by Mangiacotti, Bella & Oliver natural soaps and linen tea towels. Spring is around the corner and their collection of colorful, stylish scarfs are the perfect complement to any outfit.
She and Tony love what they do, and it shows in how they treat their customers and products they sell. Life after an education career looks good on them both! “We love this, it keeps my mind engaged,” she added.
For Charlene and Tony, they want to bring something special to downtown Marion that will add to its allure. I’d say they’ve succeeded and give them an A-plus.
“We want them to feel welcome and warm—just feel good when you walk in the door,” she said.
Shucks Pearls is located at 53 South Main Street, Marion, North Carolina, 28752 and can be reached at 828.442.8656.